Reports are flying yet again that Microsoft and Yahoo are close to finalizing a search/advertising partnership.
Yes, this is at least the 50th time we've heard this over the past year. Yes, execs from Microsoft allegedly are jetting to Yahoo headquarters for (non) hush-hush meetings. And yes, both companies are not talking publicly about what might or might not happen.
(Supposedly, Yahoo might outsource its search business to Microsoft and Microsoft might let Yahoo handle part of its advertising. Or something like that....)
The timing couldn't be better for Microsoft if such a deal comes through. On July 23, Microsoft reports its fiscal 2009 fourth-quarter earnings. With no Windows 7 available yet, Microsoft's Windows client business will likely be flailing a bit. It's also Microsoft's annual sales conference next week. Can you imagine CEO Steve Ballmer galloping around the stage, with the Microsoft sales and marketing corps cheering his hoarse cries of "Bing! Bing! Bing!"?
By the way, in spite of all the Bing hype and studies claiming exponential growth from week to week, Comscore said that Microsoft's search share actually grew .4 percent in June, the first month Microsoft's revamped search engine was widely available. So now Microsoft's search share is 8.4 percent, Yahoo (which lost share in June) is at 19.6 percent and Google is holding steady with 65 percent of the search market.
At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference this week, neither Ballmer nor Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner let the word "Yahoo" pass their lips. Ballmer mentioned Bing, but more in the context of proof that Microsoft can take endless abuse but still be tenacious. (And to tell Microsoft partners they should make their search default Bing and not Google.)
Is a multi-billion-dollar Microsoft-Yahoo deal finally going to happen? I have no idea. But if it is, next week would be a great time for Microsoft to announce it.